When time and funding permit, each flower (each plant species) will have its own page, and its own PDF, and eventually its own PPT so that professors and students have plenty of material on Guatemala (and Honduras, etc) to study.

Heliconia adflexa, Coban, Guatemala, Hotel Monja Blanca, FLAAR, by Nicholas Hellmuth

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we have recently found and photographed.

Reports by FLAAR Mesoamerica
on Flora & Fauna of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo
Peten, Guatemala, Central America

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“Manzanote” cactus that is a complete tree

“Manzanote” cactus that is a complete tree

Cacti are perennial plants, very attractive for their strange shapes and spines. Its stems are green, fleshy, simple or branched, with cylindrical, globose or flattened shapes. They are, generally, terrestrial plants adapted to extreme climates where they can survive long periods without water. They can be herbs, shrubby or arborescent, fleshy or even hard and woody stems; also, epiphytes cacti can be found (mostly in trees from the tropical zones) (Véliz, 2008).

The main characteristic of cacti is the presence of thorns (spines) on their stems instead of leaves, in fact the word cactus derives from the Greek "káctos", which means "prickly thistle". But, as nature is unpredictable, there’s the exception of the rule: two genera which species that have leaves. These are: Pereskia and Pereskiopis, according to Véliz (2008). So, if you are a cactus enthusiast, you will surely be impressed by learning about the species Pereskia lychnidiflora.

At first glance, Pereskia lychnidiflora looks like a tree full of thorns, since it can reach up to 9 meters in height and its stems are even woody-like, so you would never imagine that it is a cactus. This species is commonly found in the dry forest of Guatemala, which includes the departments of El Progreso, Zacapa and Chiquimula. It is known by the locals by the name of "Manzanote" (big apple in Spanish) due to the fruits it produces, very similar to apples (Yoshimoto, 2017). There is a special interest in the Pereskia genus because of its medicinal properties such as antisyphilitic, emollient and for the treatment of inflammatory and skin diseases. Recent research has shown that the P. lychnidiflora species contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties due to the presence of tannin alkaloids and sterols (Guerra, et al. 2018)

The FLAAR Mesoamerica team found this amazing cactus in Guastatoya, El Progreso on Highway CA9. We have also seen at at the same tree cactus throughout dry hills of Zacapa, including in the Heloderma reserve.


This part looks like a cactus plant: spines everywhere.


Here it looks more like a tree.


Here again it looks like a cactus: spines everywhere.


Here the Pereskia lyechnidiflora looks more like a tree. Victor Mendoza, plant identifier manager at FLAAR Mesoamerica told me it is a cactus.

All photos were taken with iPhone 12 Max Plus by Nicholas Hellmuth

All are Circa km. 91, Highway CA9. There are hundreds of these cactus trees from circa km. 90 to km 97 (and beyond). But not many cacti along the streams that flow into Rio Motagua; the stream side vegetation is not usually bosque seco. So avoid the rivers and go to the hills. Most are on the south side of the road but a few are on the north side. Once you recognize the color, size, and shape of the leaves they are easy to find (in the months when they have leaves).

The characteristics of Pereskia lychnidiflora make it a very interesting and exotic plant, but at the same time, very little studied and appreciated. It is a sample of the great diversity of species that we can find in the dry forest, a unique place in Guatemala; but very few people talk about it because the tree species that live there lose their foliage for 5 to 6 months, water is scarce due to lack of rain in the dry season and therefore, it is quite hot. For the other side, the seasonally dry forest can be a real spectacle in the rainy season, first because trees recover their foliage and transform into the forest we expect to see. Plus, there are many reptiles and insects that appear after months of estivation (when animals slow their activity for the dry season) which complement the landscape. You might be interested on reading about the most eccentric lizard from Guatemala, learn more here:

Guatemalan relative of Gila Monster of southwest USA, Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti, Rio Motagua and Huehuetenango


“El Niño Dormido” a unique species in the world


Next opportunity (once the Coronavirus lockdown is over), if you pass driving parallel to the Motagua Valley, now you know what to look for, so hopefully you will observe this interesting species: Pereskia lychnidiflora, one of the only cacti that have trunk, tree-sized branches, leaves.

PDF, Articles, Books on Pereskia lychnidiflora

  • ANDERSON, Edward F.
  • 2001
  • The Cactus Family. Timber Press. Pages 566 to 572 are helpful.
  • BUTTERWORTH, Charles A. and Robert S. WALLACE
  • 2005
  • Molecular Phylogenetics of the Leafy Cactus Genus Pereskia (Cactaceae), Systematic Botany, 30 (4): 800–808
  • GUERRA, Rocío, GÓMEZ, Luis Javier, CASTILLO, Ulises G., TOLOZA, Gonzalo, SÁNCHES, Juan Pablo, AVALOS, Noel, MEJÍA, José, NÚÑEZ, Marvin and Miguel A. MORENO
  • 2018
  • Efecto analgésico, caracterización fitoquímica y análisis toxicológico del extracto etanólico de hojas de Pereskia lychnidiflora. Rev. perú. med. exp. salud publica vol.35 no.4.
  • LEUENBERGER, Beat Ernst
  • 1986
  • Pereskia (Cactaceae), Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden, 14.
  • LEUENBERGER, Beat Ernst
  • 2008
  • Pereskia, Maihuenia, and Blossfeldia — Taxonomic History, Updates, and Notes, Haseltonia, 14: 54–93.
  • YOSHIMOTO, Jiichiro and Daniel ARIANO
  • 2017
  • El bosque estacionalmente seco de Guatemala: Flora, Fauna y Cultura.


Suggested webpages with photos and information on Pereskia lychnidiflora

Discusses the genus Leuenbergeria.

Photos of each species.

General information with one reference cited.

General information


Complete information and photos

This botanical website lists one lonely specimen far from its bosque seco homeland. Shows how incomplete the herbaria are on this plant (kind of hard to collect and flatten a tree with spines as long as this). There are thousands of this tree all over the bosque seco area(s) of Guatemala.


This is the original website of Kew Gardens and their colleagues. It lists the accepted name as Pereskia lychnidiflora DC.

This website is a complete update of www.ThePlantList.org. The new edition lists the accepted name as Leuenbergeria lychnidiflora (DC.) Lodé.

Nice photographs of the fruit. If cattle eat these I bet humans would enjoy the fruits also.

Scholarly botanical page with tons of references in their bibliography. So if you are studying this cactus tree in detail, the bibliography on this page will help.

This is the original website of Kew Gardens and their colleagues. It lists the accepted name as Pereskia lychnidiflora DC.

General information

If you are a botanist or a university student and really want to learn about evolution of cacti and how botanists classify the “tree cactus” genera, this long webpage is a good place to start.


3:54, Plant Traveller: Pereskia lychnidiflora Original cactus


Updated January, 2022 by Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR (USA) and FLAAR Mesoamerica (Guatemala)
First posted February, 2021
Bibliography and text by Vivian Hurtado, FLAAR Mesoamerica, updated by Nicholas Hellmuth.


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